False alternatives

Just because doing X will help situation A get better doesn’t mean that doing Y (instead, or in addition) won’t also help. Unless you have to choose between them, therefore, the proposition “X is a good thing to do” does not constitute a valid argument against “the proposition “Y is a good thing to do.”

Thorswitch at Different Strings has a long and thoughtful response to yesterday’s post about marketing to children.

The point of the response is that the problem isn’t TV advertising, it’s spineless parents. If parents only toughened up and were prepared to say “No” to their kids, everything would be fine.

But is there somehow a choice between restoring parental backbone and regulating the pitchmen? Would regulating the pitchmen make it harder to restore parental backbone, or easier? And if we don’t have to choose between them, how is the claim that parents should say “No” more often contradict the claim that advertising Big Macs and Super Duper Sugar Bombs to eight-year-olds is an evil thing to do, and ought to be prevented?

I agree that we face a major challenge in tryingto restore parental authority in a two-earner-household world in which the kids spend much more time with one another than they do with their parents, giving the kids the internal lines of communication in the generational battle. But I don’t see how that changes the problem of regulating advertising aimed at kids, except by making it more urgent.

Just because doing X will help situation A get better doesn’t mean that doing Y (instead, or in addition) won’t also help. Unless you have to choose between them, therefore, “X is a good thing to do” does not constitute a valid argument against the proposition “Y is a good thing to do.”

I don’t mean to pick on Thorswitch, whose argument takes a very familiar form. My target is a set of three linked ideas: (1) that there can be only one “cause” of a bad situation, (2) that therefore there can be only one party morally responsible for it, and (3) that only that one morally responsible party has the capacity or duty to do anything about the situation. Those ideas, I claim, are all common, all false, and all terribly destructive to our capacity to reason together about making the world a better place.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “False alternatives”

  1. More on TV ads and parental responsiblity

    Mark Kleiman offers a good response to my comments from yesterday about the idea of regulating TV advertising aimed at children. My response to his initial post was that rather than regulating advertising, parents need to learn to say "no"…

Comments are closed.